Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XX: The New Home in Lexington: Death of the General's brother, Smith Lee

The Document

The quiet and rest which he so much desired, and which he was enjoying when he wrote, did not long remain his. He had just gotten my mother comfortably settled at the Baths, when he received the news of the sudden death of his brother Smith. He went at once to Alexandria, hoping to be in time for the burial. From there he writes my mother:

"Alexandria, July 25, 1869.

"My Dear Mary: I arrived here last evening, too late to attend the burial of my dear brother, an account of which I have clipped from the Alexandria Gazette and inclose to you. I wish you would preserve it. Fitz. and Mary went up to 'Ravensworth' the evening of the funeral services, Friday, 23d, so that I have not seen them, but my nephew Smith is here, and from him I have learned all particulars. The attack of his father was short, and his death apparently unexpected until a short time before it occurred. Mary [General Lee's eldest daughter] was present, and I hope of some comfort to her uncle and assistance to her aunt. Fitz. came here the afternoon of his father's death, Thursday, 22d, made all arrangements for the funeral, went out to 'Ravensworth' to announce the intelligence to our aunt. He carried down, Friday morning, on the steamer, Mrs. Cooper and Jennie, to stay with his mother, and returned that afternoon with his father's remains, which were committed to earth as you will see described.

"John returned the next morning, yesterday, in the mail-boat, to his mother, with whom Dan stayed. Robert arrived this morning and has gone to 'Ravensworth' to announce my arrival. I shall remain here until I see or hear from Fitz., for, as you will see by the Gazette's account, the last resting-place of the body has not been determined upon. Fitz., I understand, wishes it interred at Hollywood, Richmond; Nannie a the cemetery here, where her father, mother, and daughter are buried; and Mrs. Fitzhugh at 'Ravensworth.' I think Nannie's wishes should be consulted. I shall probably leave to-day or to-morrow, and, after seeing all that remains to us of our dear brother deposited in its last earthly home, and mingling my sorrow for a brief season with that of his dear wife and children, I shall return to you. Please send the letter after perusal to Agnes and Mildred, as I shall be unable to write to them. I am staying at the Mansion House. Our Aunt Maria did not come down to the funeral services, prevented, I fear, by her rheumatic attack. May God bless us all and preserve us for the time when we, too, must part, the one from the other, which is now close at hand, and may we all meet again at the foot-stool of our merciful God, to be joined by His eternal love never more to separate.

"Most truly and affectionately,

"R. E. Lee.

"Mrs. M. C. Lee."

The loss of his brother was a great sorrow to him. They were devoted to each other, having always kept warm their boyish love. Smith's admiration for and trust in my father were unbounded, and it was delightful to see them together and listen to the stories of the happy long ago they would tell about each other. No one could be near my Uncle Smith without feeling his joyful influence. My sister Mary, who knew him long and well, and who was much attached to him, thus writes:

"No one who ever saw him can forget his beautiful face, charming personality, and grace of manner which, joined to a nobility of character and goodness of heart, attracted all who came in contact with him, and made him the most generally beloved and popular of men. This was especially so with women, to whom his conduct was that of a preux chevalier, the most chivalric and courteous; and, having no daughters of his own, he turned with the tenderest affection to the daughters of his brother Robert."

Next: Visits to "Ravensworth" and "The White House"

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How to cite this article

Lee, Robert E. jr., The Recollections & Letters of Robert E. Lee,, webpage created by Rickard, J (8 June 2006),

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